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Though situated on the eastern margins of rural California, we reach a diverse audience.

Teaching About Birds in the Mono Basin and Beyond

River Gates


At Devils Postpile National Monument, River Gates shows Youth Conservation Corps members a Red-breasted Sapsucker. Photo by Sacha Heath

In 2001, PRBO Education and Outreach expanded to the Eastern Sierra, where River Gates has been teaching local students and the general public about our research there and the resulting conservation messages.--Sarah Warnock, Interim Director of PRBO Education and Outreach

The Eastern Sierra is a 450-mile stretch of mountains and desert, a collision of habitats and a landscape rich with bird communities. PRBO's 29-year presence in the Eastern Sierra began with landmark Snowy Plover research at Mono Lake and continues today with long-term monitoring projects in riparian habitats throughout the region.

Following a PRBO tradition, our Eastern Sierra education program uses the beauty and fascination of birds to teach about conservation science methods and how we use bird studies to learn about ecosystem health. Partnering with Inyo National Forest and Devils Postpile National Monument, PRBO engages visitors, local residents, and students in research projects, helping them to understand and appreciate the nature of their beautiful backyard.

In 1941, the City of Los Angeles began diverting Mono Lake's freshwater feeder streams to meet the demands of the growing city. As a result, the lake's fragile ecosystem--including the world's second largest breeding colony of California Gulls--was put at risk.
Willow Flycatcher. Photo by Will Richardson

In 1983, PRBO began monitoring this gull colony's drastic decline and was instrumental in the successful court battle to save Mono Lake. Following the 1994 return of water to the streams, natural habitats have begun returning--and so have the birds! Nowhere else in California is there a higher documented density of Yellow Warblers, and Mono Basin streamside habitat has provided critical for breeding Willow Flycatchers, a state endangered species.

Today, our bird-banding stations contribute data to restoration efforts in these habitats and host visiting vacationers, locals, organized groups, and schoolchildren, who learn what the birds are showing us about how best to conserve the Eastern Sierra's fragile habitats. Our evening presentations at local campgrounds introduce visitors to the rich diversity of Eastern Sierra birds and ways they can conserve birds at home. In the future we hope to increase outreach to local landowners, to encourage proper land stewardship.

We also help organize the Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua, an early-summer festival that draws a diversity of people for a natural history extravaganza. Working in partnership with the Mono Lake Committee and Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve, we offer natural history field trips and presentations about various research projects in the Mono Basin.

Though situated on the eastern margins of rural California, we reach a diverse audience: last year, we made contact with over 1,000 people! Our dedication is constantly renewed by these visitors' fascination as they learn about the diverse, recovering bird life of the Eastern Sierra.